By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010; 9:34 AM
Senior House Republicans and Democrats announced Thursday that they will team up to rewrite the No Child Left Behind education law, a rare show of bipartisanship in the polarized Congress.
Last month, the Obama administration launched talks with lawmakers on an overhaul of the 2002 law, which mandated an expansion of standardized testing and established a national framework for school accountability. This month, President Obama's budget proposed eliminating the standard of "adequate yearly progress" for schools to close test-score achievement gaps, a key element of the law.
Many analysts say time is growing short for passage of a major education bill before the midterm elections because Congress is consumed by the economy, health care and financial regulation, among other issues.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former U.S. education secretary, said the most realistic approach would be to focus on a few fixes to the law that can attract consensus and save other reform issues for another time. "A thousand-page bill is likely to get bogged down," Alexander said. Better, he said, "to work on a big problem step by step."
But in a joint statement, Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.), Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.), John Kline (R-Minn.) and Michael N. Castle (R-Del.) pledged "a bipartisan, open and transparent effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind -- a law that we all agree is in need of major reform. It will start with a series of hearings in the coming weeks to explore the challenges and opportunities ahead as we work to ensure an excellent education is available to every student in America."
Miller is chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Kline is the ranking Republican, and Kildee and Castle are senior members. Miller said that forces are aligning this year for significant school reform. He said the administration's $4 billion Race to the Top competition for states has opened a national conversation about how to improve teaching and learning through better use of data on student performance.
"This is the best opportunity we have had to have really substantial change in how we meet the educational needs of our kids," Miller said in an interview. "Congress would love to go home and say, 'We fixed No Child Left Behind.' "
Many educators are disenchanted with the law because it has led to thousands of schools being labeled as falling short of standards. But backers say the law has put an unprecedented spotlight on struggling schools and disparities in performance among groups of students sorted by race, ethnicity, family income and other factors.
The administration has revealed few specifics on its legislative goals.
"This is a great next step," Peter Cunningham, an assistant education secretary, said of the House committee's announcement, "and we really look forward to working with them in the weeks ahead to develop a plan for reauthorization. It's absolutely our intention to do it this year."
Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, said Obama officials risk losing the chance for a major bill if they don't make a proposal soon. "Timing is a big issue," said Jennings, a former Democratic congressional aide. "They have to put their cards on the table, and they have to do it right away if they want Congress to move because these are not easy issues and there's too much else to push it aside."